Youth Lifting Weights

Youth Lifting Weights

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


Weightlifting is becoming more popular among younger people and weightlifting techniques are being used to train for sport performances in this demographic.

Some people have criticized weightlifting as a form of training for younger people by claiming that weightlifting, and other related exercises can cause injuries.

However, these are rare and the rate and incidence of such injuries is low. 

Furthermore, research suggests that weightlifting improves a number of physiological, performance and physical variables in young athletes, including body composition, power and strength. 

Weightlifters can be influenced by manipulating variables in a program when it is appropriate. 

To construct an appropriate and reasonable training program, it is important to have a thorough understanding of weightlifting, the scientific principles behind training, and how musculoskeletal development occurs. 

The coach can make decisions about competition and training that would otherwise not be possible.

A sound scientific foundation provides a solid rationale and evidence-based basis for selecting the appropriate methods. Weightlifting can be a safe, effective sport if the training and competition is age-appropriate and properly supervised.

Training-Induced Changes in Weightlifting for Children and Teenagers

Recent scientific information supports the notion that properly supervised resistance-training programs can improve sport performance, reduce injury potential, and enhance health aspects in children and adolescents. 

Although potential benefits of strength training are recognizable to most medical/scientific groups, weightlifting for this demographic is still a controversial topic.

In 2009, the International Weightlifting Federation held the first Youth World Championships. The IWF defines youth as 13-17 years old. 

The IWF World Championships allow weightlifters to compete as young as 15, as outlined here. Weightlifting was included in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games for athletes aged 16-17. 

USA Weightlifting offers age categories for 16-17 years, 14-15 and 11-12 year olds. There is no minimum age.

Risks Versus Benefits

Weightlifting has received a lot of attention in terms of its impact on performance at competitions, chronic and acute transferability to other sports, as well as injury risk. 

Weightlifting, which has become a popular resistance-training activity for youngsters in the last 25 years, is still controversial. This controversy is largely centered around weightlifting's explosive nature and the use of semiballistic moves.

While injuries are possible during weightlifting or related activities, they appear to be rare and only minor injury occurs. 

Over a period of one year, 70 boys and girls aged 7-16 years did not lose any training days due to injuries sustained during weightlifting competitions and training according to the research. 

If the technique was observed as deteriorating, further lifts were not allowed. Both boys and girls demonstrated increased explosive power and strength as measured by their training records and performance in weightlifting. 

A more detailed evaluation of the weightlifting performances in both boys and girls was conducted over a period of one year (534 lifts). Both boys and girls demonstrated significant improvements. 

Aside from that, there were no serious injuries or training interruptions reported. These two observations led to the conclusion that weightlifting competitions and training can be safer than previously believed if they are age-appropriate and properly supervised.

These results should be considered in light of an approach that is scientifically sound and realistic to both training and competition.

The training is also supervised and organized by highly qualified coaches.

Especially for young children and teenagers, it is essential to understand developmental factors and provide appropriate supervision and coaching during training.  

Most injuries in children and teens can be prevented during resistance training with the right supervision and coaching. Accidents are the main cause of injuriesas outlined in this 2009 study.

Under proper supervision, weightlifting is not more dangerous (and in most cases, less so) than any other sport as we can see in this literature.

Furthermore, weightlifting and other strength training activities have been shown to reduce injury risk in sports and activities as well as enhancing health outcomes, including longevity. 

The injuries that occur in sports involving resistance training are low when compared to other types of activities. 

Many injuries that occur in competition and training are the result of fatigue, both acute and cumulative.  

Fatigue emphasizes the importance of monitoring and managing fatigue. Monitoring and fatigue management is crucial for weightlifting during high-volume periods, intensification periods, and sudden changes in training loads. 

The results of a study on college men and women show that high-volume training combined with failure training can have a variety of negative side effects. 

This potential for negative effects may result from high levels monotony in training and strain, which could be linked to hormonal changes, including increased cortisol, decreased testosterone and possibly increased inflammation. 

Immunosuppression is often a consequence of a rapid increase in the training volume or long periods with high levels of intensity. These athletes are also at heightened risk for illness.

The athlete's body composition, past training, level of achievement, history of injury, age, and training load can have an impact. 

To reduce the risks of illness and injury, it is strongly advised that fatigue be managed and monitored longitudinally. 

Monitoring and fatigue control are critical not just during rapid growth periods, but also throughout the entire training process.

Physical, performance related, and physiological effects

Resistance training among children and teenagers has shown a variety of benefits, such as increased strength, the transference of training to other activities and improved health. 

Weightlifting is a training method that alters a number of physical and physiological factors in adolescents and children. 

Weightlifting, for example, produced significant increases in the strength, speed, and cardio-respiratory fitness parameters of boys between 11 and 12 year olds. 

These data agree with both cross-sectional and longitudinal weight-training/weightlifting studies of late adolescents and adults that indicate positive alterations in indicators of cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance performance. 

The results of an observational series from the Soviet Union, which began in the 1950s continued through to the 1980s. Investigators in these studies examined the impact of weightlifting on children's and adolescents' physical development, physiological state, and performance.

Weightlifting can improve body composition and cardiorespiratory factors (like resting heart rates, blood pressure and physical capacity) in children and adolescents aged 12-13.

It also has a positive effect on motor fitness (like jumping and sprinting), along with weightlifting. The data are particularly convincing because, in some cases, weightlifters aged 13-19 years were followed continuously and in comparison with non-exercising peers, and athletes of similar age. 

Recent observations have also shown that training in weightlifting can cause significant changes in the body composition of young weightlifters, their hormonal response and adaptations as well as in terms of maximal strength, force development rate, and performance. 

It is interesting to note that training experience (>=2 year's) and not chronological age appears to affect hormonal responses among late teens, as well as other parameters. 

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Does early weight lifting stunt growth?

The results of these studies show that body composition and performance in weightlifting improves from childhood to adulthood. The largest increase in total weight for athletes with lower body masses (80kg) occurred between the ages of 16-17 for boys and girls, and 21-22 years for those of heavier mass. 

This information can establish progression trajectories and effective training programs for young athletes. Collectively, these studies indicate that weightlifting training can produce improvements in body composition, cardiorespiratory variables, and general well-being. 

Positive changes can occur at micro- and macro-levels, depending on how training variables such as volume, intensity and exercise choice are manipulated. Weightlifting did not "stunt" growth.

Psychosocial Effects

It is known that weightlifting and resistance training can improve psychological health, enhance pain tolerance and cognition.  

The coach/instructor may relate aspects of the training to life in general and show that even difficult situations can be overcome by applying similar effort. 

Weightlifting and sport training can have a positive impact on a child's future. Sport training is a proven way to instill important values in society and life.

When is a suitable age to start?

Before beginning training, it is important to consider whether children and adolescents are physically and mentally prepared. 

From a psychological/emotional perspective, it is important that children and adolescents be encouraged to participate in physical activity that challenges and provides enjoyment and satisfaction as outlined in the publication; Foundations of Sport Exercise Psychology.

The coach or instructor can encourage self-improvement, satisfaction and good performance. Care should be taken in helping the children (and adolescents) deal with poor performances or not reaching goals.

Careful explanations are needed to instill realistic development expectations; it often takes a considerable amount of time to learn new skills or change physiology/psychology.

It is important to weigh the degree of encouragement and pressure used in order to encourage young people to achieve their goals. 

When launching a training program, it is crucial to identify the level of maturity and emotional intelligence in any child. The coach should recognize that a child's inability to understand what is expected of him or her may cause an emotional reaction to the discipline and rigors of the program. 

This problem can be corrected by redirecting the child to other activities which are not as physically challenging. 

Due to different maturation rates, not every child is ready for resistance-training at the same age. Tanner staging can be done by medical professionals for children.

However, it is time-consuming and costly. The coach/instructor should be able recognize the differences between emotional maturity and physical age. It may make sense for coaches in this situation to be accredited by a professional or governing body. 

Training Technique

Teaching Correct Technique Coaches, novices, and children in particular must be able to understand the proper technique for each exercise. 

The term technique refers to a mechanical movement pattern idealized based on solid evidence that should give optimum performance in a particular exercise. 

A lifter's skill level is determined by the degree to which a perfect technique can be attained. 

A good technique should be introduced to a beginner or child at an early age. 

  • Ineffective adaptation will result in a stagnation in progress and a lack of performance.¬†
  • Good technique decreases potential for injury.¬†

In a sporting context, high levels of skill can enhance "transferability", or the ability to apply the exercises in sport. 

Low skill levels reduce the potential to improve sport performance. In light of these factors, it's important that the development of appropriate techniques begins at the beginning of the training program, and high levels of skill are achieved as quickly as possible. 

It is important that coaches have a thorough understanding of techniques, can recognize the skill levels achieved, and are able to effectively teach them. 

Coaches who work with children and beginners have an obligation to teach them good technique. It is important to focus on the achievement of skill levels and technique early in training, especially for exercises that involve large muscles and multiple joints. This includes weightlifting. 

It is difficult to change a skill level that has been developed over a long period of time (e.g. several years). This can be detrimental for safety, progress and performance. A lack of strength can limit the ability to acquire skills, particularly in sports that require strength.

The majority of programs recommend higher repetitions (between 10 and 15 repetitions per set) at first. This type of training should only be started after a certain level of skill has been achieved.

Our experience, and the experiences of others has shown that 70 reasonable skills can best be established by using one-on-one supervision with video feedback provided after every repetition. 

Corrective actions should be taken if the required skill level is not achieved before moving on to another repetition. 

It is important to learn the technique for complex movements that require multiple joints, such as jumping or squatting or snatches, cleans or derivatives.

Only after a high level of skill has been achieved should multiple repetitions be permitted per set. 

A multiple repetitions approach in the beginning can lead to poor technique. The type of program to use depends on age and the goals of the newbie. However, in general, for children, more repetitions are needed.

Children and adolescents can be involved in the planning of the training program. This may increase motivation and improve adherence. This is in contrast to the 1:20 or lower coach-to-athlete ratio for college athletes. The ratio of 1:20 for college athletes is lower.

Mental Health Issues and Training In order to prevent negative behaviors from developing, try as much as you can to provide a positive training environment. 

The coach must be ready to handle any psychosocial problems that children (or older trainees), may have when they arrive at the gym. 

However, it is also possible that negative psychological issues develop in training and in competition as a result of poor coaching methods and lack of a developed "sport culture."

Just as beginners (particularly children) can be taught poor lifting technique and movement habits that are difficult to alter, it is also possible that they can develop negative psychosocial behavior patterns resulting from poor coaching methods and an emotionally/psychologically negative environment. 

Both are hard to fix, whether they're physiological or psychological. From the very first training session, it is crucial to establish a good physiological base and develop positive mental habits. 

In addition, the psychological strategies used in competitions must be implemented in daily training. Sport culture is an important part of creating a positive atmosphere.

Each sport has its own history and culture, which is affected by both the past as well as contemporary social influences. Sport culture is the fundamental expression of values, attitudes, and beliefs that a sport team has. 

When developed properly, sport cultures can encourage superior training and competitive motivation. Sport culture is what determines if the focus of the team is on having fun, mastering the sport or winning, or promoting individual achievement, team success or both.

Differential Training for Male and Female Adolescents and Children

Resistance training and weightlifting were once considered to be a sport for men, but this has changed. 

The trend of women and girls engaging in strength training activities has changed. They are more likely to do CrossFit and bodybuilding as well as the power sports such weightlifting and power lifting.

Among children, gains in maximum strength and related characteristics are typically smaller than adolescents, particularly late adolescents, and the gains among all 3 groups do reflect some substantial sex differences.

Qualitative adaptations resulting from strength training for younger athletes are largely similar to those noted in late adolescents and adults.

However, genetic,41 behavioral, morphological and hormonal/metabolic differences appear to create enough variance to warrant training alterations for adolescent girls in order to concentrate on specific mechanophysiological differences. 

The difference in anabolic/catabolic hormones between men and women has been a topic of discussion for many years.

Androgens, especially testosterone, influence a variety of sex characteristic-linked physiological and performance differences, such as lean body mass maximum strength, peak rate of force development (RFD), and power output.

On reaching adolescence, many of these sex differences are accentuated, particularly as it concerns muscle mass- and strength-related performance.

Some sport scientists and coaches recommend additional upper-body training during certain phases of training or in specific sports where the upper-body is active, such as throwing and weightlifting. 

Studies have shown that while women are able to increase upper-body strength more quickly than men with training, there remain differences between the sexes in terms of strength characteristics.

These differences may be important, since lower-body weightlifting and performance results can be related to upper-body strength. In the clean-and-jerk exercise, for example, the upper body and shoulders are subjected to relatively heavy loads. 

The performance of a relatively weak upper-body could be limited, since the support required to hold the bar at the shoulder girdle while maintaining an upright torso is reduced.

This potential problem can be prevented by early recognition and the appropriate interventions. The maximum strength can be described as the force generated in a specific situation. 

Most sports, especially weightlifting, are based on high power output, maximum strength and RFD. 

Weightlifters are especially concerned with explosive strength (RFD), as this is an important characteristic for determining ImP and Power Output.

For "explosive sports", such as weightlifting to be successful, you must maximize RFD and power outputs. Several sex-related differences need to be taken into account. Absolute electromechanical delay times, contraction times, RFD, and power output are typically lower in female compared with male athletes.

Some of these differences may be accounted for by androgen differences and, as adolescence is reached (puberty), by menstrual cycle factors. 

The sex differences can affect performance as well as injury rates between women and men. Weightlifting success is often based on explosiveness and power output, which are also key elements. 

Weightlifting is also a sport that requires explosiveness, power, and strength. These are often accompanied by gains in maximal strength.    

Power should not be ignored during the training process. It should always be emphasized, depending on what is being trained. 

Over time as maximum strength levels are increased, emphasis should switch toward power and explosive training.

Although, male and female weightlifters often train in a similar manner, coaches should be cognizant of sex-linked characteristics that could potentially result in performance problems. 

There are differences between men and women in terms of maximum strength. This includes upper body strength. These differences allow for training to be altered, sometimes subtly at certain developmental points and phases in a program. 

The program can be altered to include upper-body work during the preparation phase, as well as specific strength and reactive strength. 

Exercises that are explosive can address the differences in electromechanical delays, force absorption and active joint stabilization. These have all been linked to a higher injury potential, especially for anterior cruciate ligaments.

Recovery, Adaptation and Monitoring

To improve the adaptation to stimulus and recovery, it is important that the program be planned and executed with care. 

The program must include both the stimulus for training and built-in recovery. It is important to adopt reasonable ways of improving recovery adaption other than through training. Record keeping, sleep, nutrition and sleeping are all viable options. 


Parents often advise their children against lifting weights as it can result in muscle strain and injury; however, research demonstrates otherwise.

Children and teenagers can actually reap many advantages from lifting weights: balance improvement, coordination improvement and mood enhancement among them all as well as strength building to build long-lasting bones for life.

Before embarking on any weight training program, kids and adolescents must consult a certified trainer or coach familiar with youth strength training.

Starting off right with a warm up targeting each major muscle group and then cooling down after each set is crucial in order to reduce injuries. In addition, be sure they are eating enough protein so as to support bone and muscle development.

Young children and teenagers should avoid gyms and most weight training equipment designed for adults as these devices do not properly accommodate young bodies and pose a high risk of injury.

Regal points out that whether or not a child is ready to begin weight training is less dependent on chronological age and more on how developed their skeleton is. She cites anecdotal evidence: some 12-year-olds can train like 16-year-olds while there may be others who cannot.

Regal and other experts advise kids and teenagers to begin with free weights and bodyweight exercises, gradually progressing up to three sets of 10-15 repetitions for each exercise in each set. Increase weight incrementally by 10% as you go, always making sure each movement is performed with proper form.

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